Surgery Returns Spring to Her Step

Using the model, Dr. Charles Sonu shows Kathryn Welter the area where her spine needed surgery.

At first, Kathryn Welter attributed the pain in her legs to old age. “I just worked through it,” recalls the feisty 89-year-old Vacaville resident.

But when she couldn’t sleep through the night, and she had to start giving up activities such as gardening and participating in local arts group events, she decided it was time to seek help.

Stephen Newman, M.D., her primary care doctor at the Center for Primary Care in Vacaville, persuaded her to explore a number of options, from acupuncture to massage therapy and finally pain management with medication.

“Sure, it diminished my pain, but I didn’t want to be on medicine the rest of my life,” says Kathryn. “That wasn’t a good choice for me.”

Kathryn is back at home in the kitchen,
with husband Gene right by her side.

Her daughter Joan agrees. “She was spending more and more time in her chair. And she wasn’t the person we knew and loved anymore.”

“Yes,” chimes in Gene, Kathryn’s husband of 64 years. “She was a real crabapple.”

“Pain can make a real villain out of you,” agrees Kathryn. So when Dr. Newman referred her to Charles Sonu, M.D., a spine surgeon at NorthBay Healthcare, she was ready. “I didn’t want to dillydally, I wanted to get on with it.”

She had lumbar decompression surgery Oct. 21 at NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield in which Dr. Sonu removed calcium deposits and bone spurs from her spine.

“This type of surgery is probably one of the most common spine operations done today and is one of the more routine operations that I do at NorthBay,” notes Dr. Sonu.

And while he certainly took Kathryn’s age into account, Dr. Sonu points out that his oldest surgery patient was 102, and this patient went from a wheelchair to walking, so it was worth the risk.

“The overall health of the patient is the primary concern,” he explains. “I usually present both non-operative and operative options for treatment and let the patient decide which path they want to take.”

It was an easy decision for Kathryn. And days after the surgery, when she got out of bed to walk for the first time, she was stunned.

“It was the most amazing thing—the first time I walked after the surgery, I had no more pain in my legs,” she recalled. “Just like that.”

Now she’s back to cooking and gardening. She maintains three flower beds at home on the property she and her husband share with her daughter and Joan’s mother-in-law.

“I have a bed of succulents, a bed of roses, and another bed for plants that catch my fancy,” she says, proudly showing off her work on a tour of the property. She navigates her steps with ease now.

“I think it’s something you just get used to—living with the pain. It was so strange to be able to walk and not have it any more,” she says. “Of course I do have pain in other places—I’m over 80 years old—that’s just the way it is. But with the leg pain gone, life is so much better.”

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